Ouseburn Open Studios 17th & 18th March; the ultimate Culture Vulture weekend.

One of my absolutely favourite weekends of the year, a true weekend full of Culture Vulturing, is Ouseburn Open Studios. It’s a weekend full to the brim of everything the Culture Vulture is all about – supporting and championing artists and independents, seeking out the unfound and hidden talent in the region, spending time in one of the creative hearts of the region, experiencing different artistic mediums and going into artist studios and creative spaces.

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Ouseburn Open Studios is a bi-annual event that takes place in March and November every year, and celebrates art, craft and design in the Ouseburn Valley and offers other culture vultures a rare insight into the working world of artists and designer-makers. It all started modestly in 1995 with a few artists from 36 Lime Street opening their studio doors; over the years, Ouseburn Open Studios has grown and grown and now is one of the highlights of the cultural calendar; showcasing the work of more than 100 artists, designers and makers working across the Ouseburn Valley.

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One of the many creative delights in Ouseburn Valley

This year, Ouseburn Open Studios returns on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 March – 10am-5pm offering a unique insight into the working world of artists and designer-makers whilst signalling the start of the new Spring creative season with venues and artists taking the opportunity to announce new projects, new product lines, workshop programmes and events.

This Ouseburn Open Studios, five venues from across the Ouseburn Valley – located a short 15-mnute walk from Newcastle city centre – are taking part in this spring’s event including: The Biscuit Factory, Kiln, Northern Print, Jim Edwards Studio and 36 Lime Street.  Ouseburn Open Studios is open to the public and is free to attend.

I was recently invited to meet project coordinator and general manager of The Biscuit Factory, Rachel Brown, to find out more about the 2018’s Spring Open Studios.

Rachel Brown said: “The spring event has a laidback vibe, and being smaller in scale means that visitors can take their time to explore the different venues. Whether that’s discovering the freshest of work being created from within the studios, enjoying a newly launched exhibition, dropping in to a demonstration or booking into a workshop. It means that visitors can personalise what they want out of the weekend.”

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Handy map of venues

So, for 2018, the spring programme includes:

  • The Biscuit Factory – Inspired by International Women’s Day, the gallery is spotlighting inspirational women in the creative sectors with a weekend that celebrates local female entrepreneurship with pop ups, workshops, demonstrations and open discussions. How absolutely up my street is that!?
  • Kiln – The workshop and kitchen welcomes back its monster making drop-ins; get to grips with clay and make whatever comes to your imagination.
  • Northern Print – The gallery will showcase the work of Japanese artist Katsutoshi Yuasa. Using Mokuhanga – the traditional Japanese woodcut process – his work reflects on photographic and digital images and the time spent in making these hand carved works. And as always, I’m sure there will be print making opportunities for people to have a go at!
  • Jim Edwards – Jim will showcase his new collection of large Nightscape biro drawings of the River Tyne, reminiscent of his sketchbook work. As always Jim will be lurking in his creative workspace and on hand to chat about his working practice.
  • 36 Lime Street – 22 artists and makers will open their spaces over all five levels of this listed building. The theme in the street level gallery is Change, inspired by the centenary of the first votes for women. Visitors can also buy raffle tickets to raise money for building works: covetable miniature prints designed by members and printed by Lee Turner of Hole Editions. I’m building up quite the collection of these raffle tickets! Hannah Scully ones are always beauts!

As always the line up above is amazing but if that’s not enough to persuade you to visit, well I thought I’d gather my top hints, tips and reasons why you HAVE to visit.

  1. You can go inside artist studios.

This is one of my favourite elements of Open Studios. Every single studio is so different and individualistic and they open their doors to the wider public. It’s an opportunity to see works in progress, watch demonstrations, view and take in their work, find out how they make things and about future projects alongside being able to buy lots of lush pieces, prints and cards.

I spend ages just lurking and pottering about – going from studio to studio. For me, it’s a great opportunity to meet new artists and catch up with Culture Vulture favourites. I love hearing about what artists are up to, what commissions they are working on and their creative journey and inspiration.

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  1. It’s a lush opportunity to visit a new venue or space.

Even if you’re an Ouseburn Open Studios regular, as artists are always evolving, moving on, moving in and spaces in the Ouseburn are converted and transformed, there is always something new to see, discover and experience. It provides a great opportunity to finally visit a venue or independent, that you’ve been meaning to but haven’t got round to yet.

I’m super looking forward to FINALLY going to The Kiln; yes can you believe that I’ve not properly been yet? Every time, I try to visit it’s either too full or closing (I swear it’s a conspiracy) so I am making it my firm priority to go and really looking forward to it.

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The Kiln – Ouseburn

  1. It’s ace for boozy Culture Vulturing and supporting independents.

We all know I’m a big fan of the #SundayClub and Ouseburn Open Studios is perfect for this. I love going with a friend, planning a lush lunch somewhere (often Ernest) plotting our route, visiting the galleries and venues, and stopping off on the way at many of the independent bars for a drink. As you can imagine, the more stop offs, the bigger the purchases get…..one minute I’m buying some nice print cards, the next a small print, then a chopping board and suddenly I’m putting a deposit on a coffee table commission. It can be a beautiful blur.

And that’s also the beauty of Ouseburn Open Studios – there is a misconception that purchasing art is mega expensive and it’s really not. A lot of work and pieces are really affordable alongside pieces that I like to label “aspirational” – one day! Open Studios is like my version of walking around IKEA; I pretty much know exactly all the art pieces, the commissions and token creative bits that I want for my own house. My house will be full of bespoke pieces by independents, full of colour and total mis-match – representative of my personality.

The Biscuit Factory and in many of the individual studios, there are often a wider selection of bespoke gifts, prints, cards created by artists and creatives etc – by purchasing those, you’re equally supporting independents and creatives and they are super affordable . Last Christmas, every card I sent was from the last Ouseburn Open Studios – each very different, lush and unique. I like the idea of giving someone their own mini artwork.

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The Biscuit Factory

  1. Ouseburn Open Studios is super accessible.

If you’re a Culture Vulture, have a family of mini culture vultures, creatively curious or looking for an ace afternoon out with your friends, family or on your own (I often go it alone and love it!), then it’s absolutely for you. The vibe and atmosphere is amazing, everyone is always having a lush time so I always get chatting to people. As so many different types of artists are involved, you may go into one studio and think it’s not quite for you or to your taste, then walk into the next one and love it and so on. For me, I’m less about the florals and more about the abstract, or the graphic design, the colourful, the big and the bold, the obscure and the artistically intricate.

And for families, there is always lots to do too. Many of the venues or artists have child friendly activities for your mini culture vultures to have a go at. But the families that I watch going around, because each studio and space and space is so lush and different, for kids it’s like a new discovery behind every turn and they often can’t wait to show their grown-ups what they’ve just seen in another studio.

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  1. It feels like home.

My creative soul feels like it belongs in the creative quarter of Ouseburn. I love the industrial surroundings (not so much the student accommodation!), the graffiti, the lush independents, the vibe and the creativity that is going on all over the place. For me, it’s as much about the outside as it is the inside, taking in the river, popping along to the Tyne Bank Brewery, going to check on the little boat behind Seven Stories and seeing all the small pieces of public art hidden around.

However, true nostalgia and it wouldn’t be an Open Studios without it, is visiting Jim Edwards Gallery Space. You may remember I wrote a recent blog post on him – I’ve been a super fan for a while. I love his work, his depiction of Northern cultural scenes and his representations of views that we all know and love. I was also a super fan of Craig David Pubcat (if you know, you know!) and visiting Jim’s gallery is like a little homage and nod to his memory. I bliddy loved that cat and I love that Jim has captured Craig David in several scenes showing how much he was a part of the fabric of the cultural scene for many.

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Jim Edwards featuring CraigDavid Pubcat

  1. It’s not just about looking at things.

Lots of the artists and creatives put on demonstrations or continue their creative practice so you can watch whilst they are engaged in a new project or commission. There is a lot of opportunity to chat and ask questions. But many run drop in workshops across the day – which is a brilliant addition.

This year The Biscuit Factory is doing something a little bit special and very up my street to complement their brand new Spring exhibition (can’t wait to see it – I’ve avoided going so it’s all a lush surprise); they have several artists from the exhibition on hand to chat about their work – a meet the makers type of thing. They have also assembled a creative programme inspired by International Women’s Day with some of my fave female creatives and artists – including The Crafthood, All Round Creative Junkie, A Woven Plane, Trendlistr and Megan Randall (who I haven’t met in person yet – so yey!). If you want to find out more about the line-up well head on over to the facebook event page – as some activities and workshops have specific timings and charges.

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So I hope that’s enough to get you excited – I will be out culture vulturing across both days – so if you see me, make sure you say hello! I will also be popping my creative adventures on social via facebook, insta and twitter so if you want to follow that you can.

Facebook: @TheCultureVultureNE

Insta: @horts27

Twitter: @reettinker

For more information on Ouseburn Open Studios visit their website: http://www.ouseburnopenstudios.org

Until next time Culture Vultures!

Adventures, Ampersand and Accessories: an interview with artist Melanie Kyles.

I go through phases of loving people, things, events, art, experiences, foods – when I love it, I really love it! An artist I met recently Melanie Kyles is one of those people currently on my girl crush radar – I’m in love with her work at Ampersand Inventions, in love with her studio, in love with her accessory business, in love with her embroidery, in love with her stories of visiting New York, in love with her co-creation Fashion Lab and the last time we met, I was also in love with her shows.

With it coming up to International Women’s Day, it seems only right to give some shout outs and love to some creative women that I am really admiring at the moment.

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A week or so ago, I spent the afternoon with Mel talking shop, creative stuff and getting to know her practice, big ambitions and how being made redundant recently, has really triggered a new chapter of entrepreneurial creativity.

Hi Melanie, so let’s start at the beginning; tell me about your practice?

I specialise in hand embellished and embroidered fashion and artwork. I’m very passionate about what I do; I’ve been interested in both fashion and fine art for as long as I can remember, and I’ve practiced hand embroidery and embellishment for almost a decade.

For my self-titled accessories business, I design, make and sell bespoke and limited edition fashion accessories designed with timelessness in mind, mostly occasion pieces with elements of luxury such as a silk lining, an ostrich feathered trim or Swarovski embellishment. There’s a lot of attention to detail, from the accessories to the matte black luxury packaging, and I always picture a sensual bold woman who is confident in her own style and enjoys a little indulgence.

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Depending on the piece, a lot of hours can go into it from start to finish, from the initial inspiration through to design ideas, sampling, creating a surface pattern template and creating the final piece. I create everything by hand, and have gone to great lengths to get things perfect, whether it includes tracking down pure silk ribbon in the correct width from a place in California for a bow I want, or sat till 5am with a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting between my knees (a bit extreme, I know!) carefully fluffing a feather trim I’ve dyed to match a lingerie set for Newcastle Fashion Week.

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I apply a similar aesthetic to my art work, I previously used existing vintage objects as my canvas and used my skills to turn them into pieces of art. This started a couple of years ago with art books (Botticelli and Da Vinci) from the 20’s that had been abandoned at a school, and I embroidered traditional and often religious imagery using white and silver metallic threads with Swarovski, silver leaf and pearl enamel. I built up a collection and had my debut show, titled ‘Holier Than Thou’, to launch Praxis gallery, which is in my studios Ampersand Inventions. From there I went on to embellish vintage tools, taking away their functional value and replacing it with an aesthetic one, and a wire mold of a ‘Venus De Milo’ figure.

Tell me about some recent projects?

Over the past six months, my main projects have been exhibiting in Manchester and New York, an incredible experience and my first international show, and also being asked to create a fashion accessory to honor La Di Da magazine’s 3rd anniversary issue.

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My trip to Manchester was to take part in Manchester Contemporary, where I had my gold embellished sculptures on display; the vintage tools I mentioned earlier. They were titled ‘Division of Labour’ as my Dad who is a welder fused some pieces of the sculpture together, and it’s the idea of more than one skillset being used for a singular final outcome, though it’s more than that as it also has heritage. We both create things with our hands, manual work if you will, and his Dad, my Grandfather was also a welder, so it was quite a personal project.

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At the same time as this was happening, I was also commissioned to make a bespoke neckpiece for a shoot for La Di Da magazine. I’ve been friends with the editor for over a year now, and I was honored she asked me, and a few of my friends in the fashion industry, if we would create a shoot for their third year anniversary issue. Of course we jumped at the chance. I made a hand-cut embellished neckpiece made from metallic pewter leather, leather being the third year anniversary gift tradition, and we had a four-page spread in the last Autumn issue.

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Last but certainly not least, and the highlight of my career so far, was having my work exhibited in Art Helix in Brooklyn, New York, as part of the ‘Exchange Rates’ exhibition with Ampersand Inventions and Vane gallery. I collaborated with my friend who I share a studio with, and who is also co-owner of The Fashion Lab, Helen McClafferty, on a set of twin metal sculptures.

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Our brief as a collective was titled ‘Off The Map’, so given we are both from a fashion background, we applied the theory of borders and territory to female figures, Helen’s focusing on a borderless landscape with exaggerated terrain and myself using bejeweled barbed wire and chicken wire to define continent borders and territory. It was incredible not just to exhibit, but to meet all of the artists there, visit the open studios that weren’t too dissimilar to our own, and generally absorbing all of that influence and inspiration, both in the galleries and on the streets…it’s definitely changed my outlook and has forced me out of a box I didn’t realise I was in!

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently going through a transitional period, as I only went full time with my business a month ago and I’m adjusting to suddenly having an extra 20+ hours in my week. Really I’m just finding my feet and making sure I have a solid foundation, I’m working freelance on a bridal commission and delivering workshops, but I’m also giving my website a facelift and working on a new range of accessories, so definitely still keeping myself busy!

You’re getting involved in participatory work….. how is that going?

It’s very early stages at the moment but from what I’ve experienced so far it’s going really well. I’ve always loved working with people, and it feels rewarding to be at the stage where I can give something back and inspire and help others.

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Often under ‘normal’ circumstances, being self-employed can be isolating, but thankfully the environment I’m in buzzes with social and creative energy, and I’m lucky that those I’ve worked with in the local fashion industry are supportive too. Being able to help others in a way I haven’t been able to previously feels like a natural progression, and is something I’d like to do a lot more of this year.

Tell me about Ampersand Inventions? What goes on there? Who is there? Can people visit?

It’s an amazing place! It’s where my studio and The Fashion Lab are based, and it’s a creative melting pot of studios, lectures, events and its process gallery ‘Praxis’. It’s not open to the public, other than events, classes and exhibitions, it’s invitation only if you already know someone in here, but if anyone is interested in visiting the space I would highly recommend contacting the directors Jonpaul and Peter; both are brilliantly supportive.

Tell me about The Fashion Lab?

The Fashion Lab is a workspace that leads on from mine and Helen’s studio, and it used to be an old workshop room. With the help of Jonpaul and Peter, we’ve transformed it from an old banger into a Ferrari, where was once dark carpets, brick wallpaper and a wooden bench is now a bright clean space with slick blinds and space for us to spread our work, and the biggest mood board known to man!

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Up until very recently, things have been put on hold for reasons beyond our control, but we have had a couple of meetings this last week and I’m very excited for what we have planned…I wish I could share but I’ve promised to keep things under wraps!

Do you know what you’re doing for the Late Shows this year yet?

Yes but that would be telling!

What’s on your creative bucket list this year?

Ooh that’s a tough one, but given everything that happened last year I have high hopes! I have a lot of plans workwise, some of which include mastering gold-work and launching The Fashion Lab, but truthfully the most important thing for me is keeping a good balance. I want to take my business and my art career to the next level, and I want a sense of adventure, one that involves both travelling to make connections and showcase my work but also, something very important to me, is travelling to see some of my closest friends that have recently moved away to Glasgow and London. I’m also going on my first holiday in years (it’s only three days in Blackpool, but that still counts right?), and a couple of my good friends are getting married at the end of the year, so there’s a lot to look forward to all around!

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Well Melanie Kyles – my new favourite person and artist of the moment; what an inspiration! I get the sense of someone on the ‘edge of glory’ if you will – full of the exciting unknown, uncertainty and a brand new creative adventure awaiting.

Here at Culture Vulture HQ, I am super excited to see Melanie’s next moves and the launch of The Fashion Lab. I’m also buzzlight years excited to see her next pieces of work and to support her on this journey in a variety of forms. I will be championing you pet!

And that office – proper office envy!

That’s all for now Culture Vultures – but I will be writing a separate post on my tour of Ampersand Inventions so watch out for that over the coming weeks.

Northern Design Centre – a creative hub in Gateshead

There is a real buzz around Gateshead at the moment which is fuelled even more by Gateshead Council’s announcement that they are creating a 1.5 billion start up fund, specifically focusing on enhancing economic development and business start-up support. Moreover, the reasoning behind the funding is to assist Gateshead businesses to be even more competitive internationally and supporting the region in these international markets. There is a secondary fund that will change the way start-up businesses are supported in regards to employing people – anyone who runs their own business knows how challenging and overwhelming employing your first person can be; this extra support will help and should see the creation of 100,000 new jobs from 2017. This is good news for Gateshead business people and brilliant news for the area.

Gateshead is fast becoming known as an entrepreneurial hub on the National stage – all across the borough exists a wide range of diverse creative businesses that have survived the recession or have launched in its wake. That is one of the reasons I love attending networking events; listening to their stories makes me feel so inspired and proud to be from this area. At the moment, the regional press is full of stories of the thriving community of start-up businesses and creatives. And rightly so – us northerners have never been afraid of getting our hands dirty and doing the hard work necessary for business success.

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A real entrepreneurial and creative hub in Gateshead, can be found just behind the Gateshead Quays, in the Baltic Business Quarter. Most people recognise The Northern Design Centre, as an icon on the sky line with its unique building design, by award winning local architects, Red Box Design but few know that the building is a purpose built space for start-up businesses and is full to the brim of exciting Gateshead businesses. I thought I’d use this blog post to talk about some of my favourite businesses in there and the innovative things going on right here in Gateshead!

Green Digit

Green Digit can be found on the first floor of the Northern Design Centre. Their innovative product Seed Cell are pods of various seeds in a wheel that are ready for planting; everything from herbs, to flowers, to chilli. This product has revolutionised gardening and made it a little bit fun again and completely accessible to all. You can plant these pods in the garden, in your allotment or grow them in your kitchen in a pot. The product is the brain child of founder, Dan Robson and in 2014, secured investment to scale up the business and manufacturing.

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Green Digit can be found on the first floor of the Northern Design Centre. Their innovative product Seed Cell are pods of various seeds in a wheel that are ready for planting; everything from herbs, to flowers, to chilli. This product has revolutionised gardening and made it a little bit fun again and completely accessible to all. You can plant these pods in the garden, in your allotment or grow them in your kitchen in a pot. The product is the brain child of founder, Dan Robson and in 2014, secured investment to scale up the business and manufacturing.

YourFilm

YourFilm is growing; representative of the fact video (partly thanks to YouTube) is now one of the key mediums, alongside social media for businesses to communicate their offering and to engage with their customers. They can create visually fantastic commercials, training videos, animations, short films and promotional content – they’re abilities in this sector are endless. In fact, if you’re a business or organisation in the North East wanting a video, they are THE go to video production business. I recently put a call out on Facebook to my business connections, as I want to create a video for a future crowd funding campaign and 90% of people suggested YourFilm; that has to be a good sign that these guys are the very best!

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I’ve met the guys behind YourFilm several times at networking events and what comes over loud and clear is their passion for film! One wonders, if we will ever see their very own big screen debut!?

CleanShakes

CleanShakes can be found taking over the Northern Design Centre fridges with their yummy shakes. They make and bottle superfood shakes mixed with Almond milk that nourish to make you flourish. Each 250ml bottle is packed full of nutrition and taste; priced at £3.00. CleanShakes is the creation of three ladies, living in the North East. The story goes that one founder returned from America after travelling around and noticed the amount of juice bars, another founder had been researching keenly the diary free market and the other found was looking for better tasting healthy foods; they sat down, brainstormed and CleanShakes was born!

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At Clean Shakes, they value your taste buds above anything else and they believe, they only deserve the very best; a top notch delicious premium healthy Shake. They are healthy and yummy – perfect combination.

Their shakers are the top priority; they want them to feel good, look good and with a bounce in their step. The shakes are packed with super foods, Almond Milk and are free of nasties; a daily dose of health within a balanced diet and bursting full of nutritional benefits. #tastethebenefits

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They are currently developing their business model; plotting to scale up via funding their own growth and establishing CleanShakes as the number one alternative milkshake brand in the North East. It’s certainly an exciting time for this business! They have already secured written expressions of interest from the likes of Nudo, Fenwicks, Waitrose, Booths and Ocado. You can purchase a CleanShake via premium delis such as The Urban Bakery in Low Fell or the Cycle Hub in Newcastle this Easter weekend or by placing an order direct!

Follow them on Twitter: @CleanShakes

Design Network North

Design Network North is made up of Designers, Manufacturers, Businesses, Institutions, Students and Individuals who all work within or have a passion for Design in their industry.

The Network is designed to offer support, advice, networking, business opportunities and events to its members, partners and the wider community. Their aim is to increase the awareness of the importance of design within all industries, insuring that the value of design is considered by everyone, in the region and beyond.

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As the Network is so diverse, they are able to pair up designers with other businesses who are looking to advance their design practices and create opportunities for working partnerships and future growth in the industry. It’s almost like a match maker service for businesses!

They also put on really brilliant networking events too!

Atomhawk

Since 2009 Atomhawk have been working with movie studios, game developers and product designers to help realise their visions, bringing their ideas to life.

They’ve been involved in everything from projects with Nike, to working with Costa coffee, to The Guardians of the Galaxy film, to big budget computer games such as Mortal Combat, to very high profile projects like J.K Rowling’s Pottermore. Very impressive and right here in Gateshead; who would have thought!?

You can read more about their work on the Guardians of the Galaxy here.

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They also exhibit and sell lots of their conceptual art from projects; The Art of Atomhawk Volume 2 features a diverse range of concept and marketing art from high profile projects such as Mortal Kombat, Project Spark, Injustice: Gods Among Us and J.K Rowling’s Pottermore. The images appear alongside insights into the thinking and influences behind the art work and digital painting tips from the Atomhawk artists. It also features personal pieces from members of the Atomhawk team.

The book is available to purchase on Amazon so have a deeks!

Entrepreneurial Business Management – Northumbria University

A quarter of the Northern Design Centre has been taken over by Northumbria University and the really innovative degree programme; entrepreneurial business management. The degree course sees students, embracing the lean start-up ethos; rapid testing of enterprise concepts and setting up and growing businesses and learning through their experiences. As such the course empowers and enables students so they leave University much more entrepreneurial and with (hopefully) successful established businesses.

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Across the course, there are a really wide range of diverse businesses – from an all in one teabag from Tea3 Ltd, to Loco a 90s Club night at MSA, to a clothing line from PowrFitness, to North East Unity business consultancy, to an upcycling bike business.

The businesses have generated over £30K since conception showing how important these students are to economic development in Gateshead. They are full of ideas that are tested rapidly and experiencing real life business by doing; the office is so full of energy, it’s completely infectious!

There are many more businesses, not mentioned in this blog post, that call The Northern Design Centre their home. The ones chosen are simply my favourite ones that have crossed my path, as they are doing something a bit different, love the North East and play by their own rules! I’m all about rebellion so seeing other people making their own way, creating fantastic products and delivering quality services right here in Gateshead is magical!

Gateshead is on the way up…….partly powered by the magic that is happening in the NDC!